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Curtis Institute of Music faculty, renowned for training the world's finest young musicians, teach free online courses designed to enhance music engagement among audiences around the world.

The Curtis Institute of Music was the first classical music conservatory to partner with Coursera to create and distribute a massive open online course (MOOC). Since launching its first class in Fall 2013, Curtis has reached students, from teens to lifelong learners, in countries from Australia to Canada, from India to Brazil. A global community emerged as participants engaged in forum discussions about the course content and their own discoveries in classical music. Faculty directly interacted with students in online chats and live Q-and-A sessions.

A second session of Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas ran in Spring 2014, and a second session of From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance is being planned for later in 2014. Plans are also underway to produce a new course in 2014–15. 

Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance

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From the Repertoire: 

Western Music History through Performance

Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith and David Ludwig (Composition '01)

During the seven-week course in Fall 2013, students discovered the stories and techniques behind classical music selections by watching lecture videos and joining online written discussions at their convenience. They applied their learning through multiple-choice quizzes and peer-graded assignments.

Add From the Repertoire to your Coursera watchlist to be notified when the 2014 session is open for enrollment.

About the Course

A survey of music history begins with those works of music that convey the artistic trends, innovations, and compositional techniques representative of their time. Rather than offer a discussion of Western music focusing on a succession of composers, this course will look at key works throughout history: from early music composed more than one thousand years ago to music of our time. Through videos covering historical context and recorded performances, students will learn how Western music has developed throughout the ages into the rich and diverse repertoire that we have today.

What makes this music truly special and important? Distinguished members of the Curtis faculty will provide their unique insights. Performances by Curtis students, alumni, and faculty will enhance the learning experience by demonstrating the form and design of the material in a creative and vital way.

By the end of the course, students should be able:

  • to understand a general survey of the development of Western classical music through the ages
  • to better understand each piece covered and to develop the skills to do more research about these and other pieces


The first week offers an historical overview as a starting point. The remaining six weeks examine specific repertoire, with recordings of performances by Curtis students and alumni provided online. Lecture videos explore the era, the composer, and the piece, from both music history and music theory perspectives.

  • Week 1: A Brief History of Notation
  • Week 2: J. S. Bach, Chaconne
  • Week 3: Haydn String Quartet in C major, Hob. III:32, and Mozart, String Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589
  • Week 4: Beethoven, Grosse Fuge
  • Week 5: Brahms, Two Songs, Op. 91, and Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40
  • Week 6: Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire
  • Week 7: George Crumb, Voice of the Whale

Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

BeethovenTaught by Jonathan Biss (Piano '01)

Join Coursera's watchlist to find out when the next session of Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas will begin.

Watch lecture videos (approximately one hour per week) and join online written discussions. You may also take weekly multiple choice quizzes and/or complete two peer-graded assignments, if you wish. Encore sessions feature the same lecture videos as the original run of the course, with revised supplementary learning content. Jonathan Biss plans to meet with students in special gatherings both in-person and online.

Inspired after the first run of the course, Mr. Biss remarked on the "number of people who have told me, in one way or another, that being exposed to a performer’s relationship to the music he plays, with all its layers and complexities, has allowed them to hear music in a way they hadn’t been able to previously."

About the Course


Our relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: His music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers. At the same time, Beethoven’s music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit.

This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven’s music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.)

The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven’s music itself.


Philadelphia Inquirer
Ode to the joy of learning Beethoven with Biss

The Wall Street Journal

Pianist's 'Private Communion' Goes Online

BBC- Culture
Online courses: Music education for all?

The New York Times
Hey, Ludwig, There’s an App for You

New York Magazine
Sign Up For Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas

The Wall Street Journal

Saving Classical Music: An App for That?

The Korea Times

Beethoven for everyone

The Atlantic 

You can now take classes from the most selective college in the country on Coursera

WHYY (90.9 FM)/

Curtis' legendary reputation draws 25,000 to first online class 


Free Online Course on Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

The Telegraph
Jonathan Biss: Can the internet open up classical music to a wider audience?

WRTI (90.1 FM)

Music lessons on Rittenhouse Square: at Curtis and way beyond


Watch exclusive Curtis performances anytime, anywhere, for free. Curtis Performs features broadcast-quality HD videos of students, faculty, and alumni. 
Stream recordings of Curtis orchestra concerts, student recitals, and more. Listen now on Instant Encore or download the iPhone app.


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Laura C. Hart, senior director for digital initiatives